Searching for the truth -- an antidote for bias

The most unbalanced and nonobjective teaching I witnessed while working on this special education section took place at a small liberal arts college and involved a visiting professor from a large university.

It was paramountly obvious where the instructor was coming from in his lectures, but he never made it clear to the listeners that that was the case. Statement after statement (espousing an ultraconservative perspective) was given without supporting documentation. There were some evidences during the lectures that the professor had, in fact, done considerable research in putting together the material, but also evidence that the professor, had come to certain conclusions and that it was these conclusions, and not the material itself, which he decided to pass on to his students.

Yet at the same college I visited a class where the scholarship was excellent -- a class that lent itself much more directly to the possibility of bias -- yet the skillful instructor continually introduced every relevant bit of data. Where scholars disagreed in their interpretation of the same event, this teacher explained the disagreement.

As in other classrooms where this type of balanced presentation took place; the lecturer provided the results of the search -- of the whole search -- and did not propagandize.

I asked about such teaching at San Diego State University, where I met with professors of economics, political science, sociology, and American Indian studies.

There was general agreement that there are many teachers, such as the one I described, "sounding off" on their own theories. Yes, these scholars agreed, such teachers were on all campuses, but they also suggested that they didn't last long, or, if they were tenured, that departments had a way of providing them with teaching chores that required the passing along of a great deal of factual imformation; this way their imbalance was kept minimal.

There was an exchange between an anthropologist and the representatives from the American Indian studies department. The two professors agreed that it was quite conceivable that a course offered in the anthropology department on "Customs and Religious Beliefs of American Indians" could be radically different from a course in "Religion" of the American Indian," taught by professor in the native-American program, and that the difference could be decidedly ideological.

There was general agreement as well that one professor might deliberately attempt to influence students to disbelieve the deeply spiritual motives of native Americans, and that unless a student took this course twice -- that is, once in each department -- the student would not have a balanced, unbiased, objective view of native American religion.

One political scientist at San Diego State wanted agreement from his professional colleagues that it was possible to teach as a "neutral," but they would not give him this right. They would let him be "neutral," if by that he meant not taking sides; but if he meant "taking a middle course," they argued that the middle course was, after all, its own course and hence unbalanced.

Then what do yo do? How can you perform as a scholar, a present material to your students, and feel that you've not tried to influence them in one ideological direction or another?

The answer: Search for the truth. And lead your students to do their own searching.

The San Diego State scholars would not allow "neutrality," but they were adamant that a search for truth would eliminate bias.

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